Last week, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure that would give Congress the ability to block any effort by the executive branch at unilaterally lifting Russian sanctions. Trump’s executive is now gently applying pressure on House lawmakers in an effort to stall its progress.
The White House maintains that stricter penalties only threaten to damage existing U.S. relations, delaying meaningful communication and cooperation on key issues, like the situation in Ukraine.
There are also concerns that the measure, which recently passed the Senate, improperly subverts authority vested in the executive branch. The president currently has the authority to impose sanctions in response to threats.
Yesterday, the United States again officially tightened sanctions against the Russian Federation. Among those targeted were over 100 specific individuals and several hundred corporations.
Further sanctions have found support across the aisle as well. There has been bipartisan criticism of the administration’s perceived attempts to ease pressure on Russia, especially in light of recent revelations concerning the role that Russia played in influencing the results of the American election.
Now, paranoia and aggression certainly have their drawbacks, among them the increased likelihood of further paranoia and aggression from the target of those sentiments. This seems to be the president’s primary motivator and he has said as much.
There is also another valuable argument to be made that real power must be able to produce real consequences if challenged, and that sanctions allow the United States to demonstrate its power and its dissatisfaction.
The president currently faces a tricky situation. He cannot risk any kind of substantial loss in support. Confidence in his ability to govern effectively already rests on a shaky foundation. The current tumult over potential collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 election has only worsened this problem.
A spirited confrontation over this issue may only turn out as an embarrassment for him. This embarrassment could be most pronounced in a lack of support from congressional Republicans. The question remains whether the president is prepared for a veto conflict.
Coming from another perspective, one could also say that conflict between the executive and the legislature over sanctions authority is nothing new. The Obama administration faced a similar struggle over sanctions authority in the Iranian nuclear dispute.
Trump’s administration has been relatively consistent in its attempts to alleviate sanctions pressure on Russia since it came into office. The legislature has successfully resisted these attempts and it is highly likely that this will be the case in the future as well.